I read about Oprah’s latest philanthropic exploit, a school for girls in South Africa, and I think surely this is a noble act. How can anyone argue against helping children? How could one be so callous? But I must admit to being struck when I read the bit that described the inclusion of a day spa amidst the classrooms and lecture halls and library. Massages, facials, all sorts of activities and amenities for “prettying-up”. This is important, she claims. Self-indulgence is important, I hear. But before I can really scoff too much, I have to take a moment and ask myself if she’s not really right.

When you’re struggling to simply make ends meet, when acquiring the basics consumes the greater part of your energies, you hardly have the requisite needed to excel in other ways. At least it becomes much more difficult. Who has time to read the classics, study philosophy, ponder world affairs, develop an ethical foundation, when you’re major task of the day is to get from one end of it to the other? When you have someone to cook for you, to train you, to relax you, to drive you, to manage your schedule, you can’t help but achieve more. Or so the logic of our culture goes.

“Real Simple” sells for a cover price of $4.50. Yoga wear is available at the up-scale outdoor adventure wear store on sale for $35.00 a piece. A worn-out t-shirt, a hold out from some long-ago-seen concert or a college homecoming would certainly do, coupled with a pair of $5 sweatpants. I’m pretty sure real yogis don something resembling an old piece of sheet folded a certain way. And they go shirtless. But for us in the West, we must spend to be sparing.

Our new governor apologizes for his “bad decision” in regards to office décor and automobile selection. For the record, he authorized the purchase of curtains for his office that cost roughly $27,000 and he preferred the Caddie over the Lincoln at a heftier price for tax payers. And this is why I sat at our dining room table during the recent run-up to the fall elections and lamented that I did not want to cast my vote for another millionaire, no matter if he sprouted from “grass roots” or not. There is just something about it, something slightly off kilter that gives me pause.

At the time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Yes, I identified that there seems something amiss in the thought processes of those claiming to want to help the homeless while they live in mansions with countless empty rooms, or even more, own multiple residences, insuring that at all times at least one or more of their entire houses remains empty. The hypocrisy is hard to miss.

So when our new governor recently sought redemption for his early miscue, I couldn’t help but feel redeemed, in some odd way, by the fact that my earlier suspicions and argument were been proven valid. For those of us making $20 an hour, a living wage by most accounts (though not enough to afford one home in Massachusetts, let alone two), the decision to spend $270 on new drapes is cause to sit down and draw up a list of pros and cons, figuring out what will be sacrificed in order to balance out such an expense in the end. $27,000?! Why did this not seem extravagant?

Because for those for whom the simple act of balancing a checkbook has long since been passed along to someone else, such thoughts and actions, never, NEVER cross the mind. Our governor and Oprah may well have come from modest, even poor beginnings, but those days are so far behind them that it is impossible for them to even imagine the day-to-day doings of the general public anymore. What under any normal situation is deemed extravagant simply isn’t. Rather, the reverse comes true – extravagancies become normal. A shift occurs, leaving a smitten majority to believe, “Hey, perhaps they’re right.” And the lives led Oprah, and Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono, Warren Buffett, the beloved members of the hometown Sox, and even our governor are viewed as normal. Attainable. And ironic.

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